Blade reporter takes CHL class: impressed with thoroughness

Another reporter shops a concealed-carry class, another excellent story on the professionalism and thoroughness of Ohio CCW training.

April 25, 2004
Toledo Blade

Pulling trigger: a chilling moment of truth
"Classes miss no targets in training applicant to qualify to obtain a concealed weapons permit"

Sobering. Reality check. Practice!

I wrote those words in capital letters among many pages of notes I took during 10 hours of classroom training at the Cleland Firearms Training Academy in Swanton. I wrote them as summary reminders of the deadly seriousness of the subjects in the lectures.

The words were in the back of my mind every time I pulled the trigger of my .38 revolver during two required hours of range training at qualification. After a warm-up on a small bull's-eye target and on paper silhouettes at 21, 40, and 50 feet, I fired 55 rounds for the official certification.

I was one of 13 students in my academy class and among 500 who have trained at Cleland's in order to apply for an Ohio concealed-carry weapons permit. I am among thousands of Ohioans who have decided to give concealed-carry a go since an enabling law took effect April 8.

I needed to see what it was all about, down where all the political rhetoric - pro or con - is left behind. You really have to spend some time thinking: Can I, would I, really pull the trigger? If I have a shred of doubt, I should forget concealed carry, forget handguns. I only may hurt myself or others without cause.

I need to think about such things, and the myriad implications and complications, before the fact. There is no time for such niceties at the moment of truth, when I may have to instantly weigh whether to pull my pistol and shoot someone in ultimate self-defense. For that is what concealed carry is all about.

"Deadly force is the bread and butter of this course - when can you shoot," summed Bradley Snow, one of the instructors. "A firearm is a tool of last resort ... when all else fails ... when you reasonably believe that you are in imminent danger of serious bodily harm and/or death.

"The first thing we have to do is avoid confrontation. Once the threat is gone, so is our ability to use [deadly] force."

The instruction process is no walk in the park. It is likewise not rocket science - all my classmates passed the written exam; one was sent home from the firing range with the suggestion of more pistol training.

Actually, I did not need to attend the course. I am a six-year veteran of the Army Reserve and would be exempt from taking a firearms safety course.

The training course deals with subjects and situations that we civilians rarely think about or confront. It is designed to instill the idea that if I carry a concealed handgun, and if I use it, I had better know exactly why.

Because no matter the most desired outcome, I could be in for a heap of trouble, headaches, and maybe heartaches.

In a shooting, both the shooter and "target" in a sense become victims, the roles flip-flop.

Police have a term, "good shooting," that they use when referring to a defensible discharge in the face of imminent serious harm or death. But even in a good shooting, a civilian is going to get handcuffed and taken for a ride in the back of a cruiser. You'll be in custody until police sort things out.

Remember, even though you met the three prime directives - the situation was not your fault, you had good reason to believe you were in imminent danger of serious or mortal harm, and you tried to retreat - the responding police won't know that at first.

All they will know is that they are responding to a 911 call about a shooting. The "bad guy" will be wounded or dead, and you will have the gun. What are they supposed to think?

Such scenarios and considerations are among the many topics in the 10-hour cram course about carrying a handgun for self-defense. They are a chilling wake-up call.

"Are you capable of using deadly force?" Mr. Snow asked the class. "It is not like TV. It doesn't go away. If you are involved in a shooting, you are going to go to jail. It's how the system works."

Mr. Snow should know. He's a veteran lawman, having served as a policeman in South Carolina, as a sergeant in the Lucas County Sheriff's Office, and as security director for Toledo Public Schools. He is certified by the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy as an instructor.

While serving a warrant with the Lucas County Sheriff's Office, he was confronted by a man with a shotgun and forced to shoot him.

Some of his other thoughts during his lecture:

● "If you take someone's life, are you prepared to take the judgments of others?

● "If you do have to use the weapon, you're in trouble."

Indeed, even if in a shooting you pass the test of criminal liability - "beyond a reasonable doubt" - will there be enough evidence on your side to pass the test of civil liability? A civil suit asks only for a "preponderance of evidence" against you, possibly alleged by the victim/bad guy's survivors.

"That means just 51 percent, not 99 per cent," Mr. Snow emphasized.

The use of deadly force, he cautioned, "is a traumatic experience." After initial elation at having survived a deadly attack, you may feel revulsion, remorse, self-doubt. You may need counseling. You may develop post-traumatic stress disorder, just like a policeman or a soldier.

"You don't have to retreat in your home." It is called the "castle rule."

You have the right to defend your home. [But] you can't kill anybody over property - including your dog.

"You can't brandish." In other words, you cannot pull your gun in an attempt to discourage a confrontation. Brandishing is a criminal act. You may be escalating a situation from which you could otherwise retreat.

The foregoing considerations repeatedly loom large in the training. But they are not all.

Chad Cleland instructed the academy's marksmanship and shooting training. He, too, knows what he is talking about. A certified National Rifle Association instructor, he is a six-time national shooting champion and former member of the renowned Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Ga. He stressed that practice and familiarity with the gun is critical.

The lectures discuss how and where to shoot a bad guy, how and where to take cover, and how to make your home safer.

How to be street-smart, how to behave behind the wheel - the police will know by your license plate you may be packing. You will be marked.

Speaking of being marked, the experience of being fingerprinted and having a mugshot taken as part of the application process is unsettling, even eerie. It brings home the seriousness of obtaining a concealed-carry permit. They'll know. They will have checked the crime computers, checked for mental instability. You will have bared your soul for this privilege.

Some applicants will see such requirements and simply turn away, discouraged or wary. How many do so, there is no way to tell, said Capt. Mark Harman of the Sandusky County Sheriff's Office. Ultimately it will be up to his boss, Sheriff David Gangwer, to decide if I have earned the privilege to carry.

"We've worried an awful lot about this," Mr. Gangwer said about the whole concealed carry process.

Sandusky County is processing about 100 applications, and Mr. Gangwer expects to issue the first concealed carry cards this week. As of late last week, the Lucas County sheriff's department was processing 107 applications, but had issued no cards.

I could not help but think, after Mr. Cleland handed me my training certificate, how valuable these courses are. How everyone should get in touch with these realities, whether they intend to carry or not.

Because shooting first and asking questions later is not an option.

Related Stories:
DDN Reporter takes CHL class; biggest lesson SAFETY

INSTRUCTOR DOES IT RIGHT: Fails undercover reporter in CHL class

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